Albums Revisited: Gene Loves Jezebel ‘The House of Dolls’
They were too glam for goth, and too goth for glam. And that’s what kept them interesting. Let’s look back at Gene Loves Jezebel’s ‘The House of Dolls’, one of the most addictive albums of the 80’s.
The band were touring for their album The House Of Dolls, which proved to be a defining and divisive point in the band’s history.
But first, some background info; GLJ were a post-punk group forged in the early 80’s. The band’s early mystique revolved around its androgynous dual lead singers, who happened to be identical twins; Jay and Michael Aston.
And while they had emerged in the Goth scene, their wardrobes were drenched in color. And rather than sullen solitude, their music was more concerned with romance than alienation.
On early releases the group had a harsh, angular tone punctuated by the Aston brothers ethereal banshee wails.Their first stateside hit was Desire off their album Discover. It flirted with dance beats and benefited from the recent addition of guitarist James Stevenson (formerly of Generation X). He added rock musculature that distinguished them from their more skeletal, austere beginnings.
The band’s follow-up House of Dolls (produced by Peter Walsh) would flirt further with the mainstream, and leave a solidly satisfying, catchy collection of Eighties awesomeness.It opened with Gorgeous, with a decadent riff that reeked of adolescent hormones and romantic longing. It also featured their sexually ambiguous lyrics:
So, you go to a bar and you /Talk to your friends about girls and cars/And even though you’re bored/They’ll only go this far/You’re So Gorgeous baby
This song set the template for Dolls; less experimental textures in exchange for bigger hooks and heavier riffing. Take Set Me Free, which kicks off with a stark staccato riff, or the slithering guitar work that punctuates the sultry Suspicion.
Twenty Killer Hurts is another song with a spiky, funky riff that frames the Aston’s rumination on the dangers of drug addition :
Dance across the floor
She’s got a head full of snow
What’d you do it for
Stevenson adds just the right mix of flash and dexterity in his riffs and solos to drive them to places that more rudimentary post-punk guitarists couldn’t go. And the rhythm section of Peter Rizzo on bass and Chris Bell on drums complimented his style. Ornate but not ostentatious.Like The Cult (who Stevenson is currently touring with) they were shedding their goth skin for more universal appeal. But GLJ never got too heavy. They’re more about the simmer and the slow burn. Take the meditative pulse of Message and the dark churn of Up There. And Every Door remains one of the best 80’s ballads with the Aston’s wistfully singing about unrequited young love:
I’ve asked your friends
And they all agree
You’re hiding and hiding from me
I’ve knocked on every door in every street
And I don’t know how long it’s gonna be
The album’s biggest hit was The Motion Of Love. But it feels slightly incongruous to the other tracks. Whereas most of House of Dolls has minor-key grandeur, Motion is much more upbeat and poppy.
Indeed, Motion Of Love wasn’t even produced by Peter Walsh. It was actually recorded by Jimmy Iovine, super producer (and future head of Interscope Records). It screams hit single and breaks the mold while doing so.
It also showcases the distinctive vocal stylings of the Aston brothers, who’s Welsh accents and reedy delivery make them sound unlike anyone else. When they bray orgasmically “I want a kiss, just a bit like this, oh, oh, oh, uh, OH YES!’, it’s so exuberant that it can cause a chuckle. But that’s what makes Gene Loves Jezebel so endearing. They held nothing back in their musical melodrama.
Unfortunately that melodrama spilled out from the songs into the band themselves. The Aston twins had a rocky relationship which apparently came to a head during the making of The House of Dolls.
According to an album review on iTunes; The Jezzies themselves hated The House of Dolls, not the songs themselves, but the slick production Walsh covered them in. Co-vocalist Michael Aston hated it most of all, and was frustrated by the group’s growing pop affiliation. He quit the band in the middle of recording, and appears on only two tracks, “Message” and “Up There,” the album’s broodier tracks.
I have no idea if this was true, but either way, Michael Aston left and the band soldiered on without him (despite a very brief reunion in the mid-90’s).
Currently there are two incarnations of Gene Loves Jezebel, one with Jay and one with Michael, but the former has the most connective tissue as it still features Stevenson and original bassist Peter Rizzo.
GLJ’s mix of goth, pop, and glam made for one of the most entertaining bands of the 80’s, and when I listen to Dolls I’m transported back to that 1987 show. And to a more John Huges-esque idyllic version of high school than actually existed.
Adolescence feels larger than life, overwhelming and full of possibility. So The House Of Dolls made for a great soundtrack. And anytime I want to escape middle age I just crank it up.
Want to own The House Of Dolls on iTunes? You can order it below. And Beggars Banquet will be releasing a deluxe edition Box Set of Dolls (in addition to other GLJ albums), which you can get more info on by clicking here.